Jessica Rios Explores Physical Therapy in Ghana
Jessica Rios, a Physical Therapy student, from Illinois Central College (ICC) was always interested in traveling internationally, but hadn’t had many opportunities to do so. She wanted to find an experience that offered her first-hand insight in the field of healthcare so that she could have a firm grasp on how different countries approach and overcome systemic challenges in the healthcare system. She researched different volunteer abroad programs, and CCS stood out to her because it allowed her the opportunity to not only serve, but also participate in cultural exchanges and travel, while having safety maintained as a top priority. She volunteered with CCS for three weeks in Ghana, focusing on healthcare.
Jessica wanted to share her experience with others to show how impactful a CCS trip can be on both a professional and personal level.
How did you get the opportunity to go on this trip?
I visited my global studies office at ICC, and they provided me with information about available scholarships. “I applied to the Wofford Fellowship Scholarship, where I wrote an essay talking about what I hoped to gain from her experience. I had no idea that there were so many opportunities for funding for programs like this out there. You just have to look and research. Just by inquiring through your college and asking for help, you might come across someone who can help make things happen.” I was so thrilled when I found out that I was receiving the scholarship.
Tell me about your volunteer experience in Ghana.
"My volunteer experience went above and beyond my expectations--it was perfectly aligned with my area of study. The first week, I visited local hospitals in a rural area. I was almost overwhelmed by all of the differences when comparing the environment to what I was used to in the United States. The more time I spend there, I started to identify the ways that we worked the same. This incredible opportunity gave me exposure to things that I don’t normally come across in the United States--from different diseases to different procedures. It was a great opportunity to ask questions, and I learned so much from the experience. I really got to learn about the difficulties that the country as a whole faced in terms of healthcare. It was interesting to see how big of a role that the lack of transportation played in providing adequate healthcare to patients.” Jessica gained an amazing overview of Ghana in the field of healthcare. The Physical Therapy Department that I was placed in for two of the three weeks had limited resources, but they were similar to what I was used to at home. Seeing that environment, I really felt ready to jump in and contribute.The people who I was working with were so willing to answer questions and help me with my work. It was an incredible exchange of information with the other Physical Therapists. We were able to speak in depth about the differences that we encountered and discussed similarities. They were not familiar with certain things that I learned, and vice versa. That exchange is something that I will take with me throughout my career.”
What was one of your favorite memories from your trip?
“I really developed a great relationship with the Physical Therapy Department. The conversations that I had with department really resonated with me. During downtime, having the opportunity to just interact and talk about differences in Physical Therapy methods to traditions and family life in Ghana was so amazing. It was a very personal and real way to learn about Physical Therapy and different cultural experiences. I didn’t expect to experience these exchanges in such a personal one-on-one kind of way, but I loved it.”
How did this trip change your perspective of the world and the work that you do?
“Through learning about how the healthcare system worked in Ghana, it gave me a more dynamic perspective and appreciation for all the people who work in the healthcare field. It truly gave me a new appreciation for my field of work. Physical Therapy is a pretty new field in Ghana, many Physical Therapists were educated in Europe and came to Ghana.” In 2005 the first class of Physical Therapists were educated in Ghana, making a lot of Physical Therapists pioneers of this field. “There is a great need for Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy in Ghana. Many people are not receiving this type of therapy. Overall, I felt enlightened and it gave me a new sense of value and respect for the field.”
What was it like being exposed to such a culturally different environment?
“I loved the feeling of culture shock. I felt like I was really immersing myself in a completely different world. When running in the morning people would want to talk to me and ask me my name. The exchanges on a local level really made the exchange so enriching. I talked to locals, drivers, people at the market, and I really got to know the people of the community. It was amazing to hear their different music, taste the different foods, and see their different clothing. There was an adjustment period, but it was a big part of the experience--just allowing myself to just become a part of the experience with open eyes and open ears. Cross-Cultural Solutions helped with the process as well, with cultural activities. We visited waterfalls, monkey sanctuaries and hiked mountains."
Where did you travel in Ghana?
“Free-Time Activities made a huge difference in my experience, I was able to venture further out. During the weekends, I visited Cape Coast and Elmina. It was a beautiful port town with fishing boats painted with flags of different countries dotted along the coast. The sights, smells, and sounds were intense. It felt like you were stepping into the pages of a history book. I grew up reading the history of the transatlantic slaves, but to actually be there affects you in a way that was so real. I knew that I wanted to look into history and architecture of West Ghana and was drawn to such a significant moment in history—one that is real and shouldn’t be forgotten.”
What did you think about the food in Ghana?
“I love spicy food--it was another part of experiencing the culture. The foods were very different. I had the opportunity to try so many new foods. From spicy greens to cassava to hot red tomato sauce, it was all an incredible part of the experience. One of my favorite food experiences was when I stopped at a little food vendor selling on the side of the street pounding fufu, made from cassava and I watched the woman make it. She let me pound the fufu, and it was amazing to be able to experience that.”
How did you like the CCS Experience overall?
“It was a truly incredible experience. The volunteer assignment gave me so much insight into global healthcare—specifically pertaining to my chosen field. It truly was such a valuable experience. It's one that can't be replicated in any other way other than going there and experiencing it yourself.
Before leaving I was worried about the living situation. It was so homey and clean— I was very impressed. I felt very comfortable and had everything that I needed. When I arrived, I instantly felt at ease and safe, like there was nothing to worry about.
I would definitely volunteer abroad with CCS again, and I am open to finding another scholarship – open to different programs. I would love to experience traveling to another destination and see another culture.”
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